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May 22, 2019

John Dewey and a new perspective

January 30, 2017

John Dewey and a new perspective

Old school: U-M in History

Topic: History

A portrait of John Dewey as a young professor of philosophy and psychology at U-M. (Photo courtesy of the Bentley Historical Library)

When James Burrill Angell was president of the University of Vermont, he became friendly with the Dewey family. One of the family's sons, John Dewey, showed such promise at the University of Vermont that Angell remembered him 15 years later, when he was searching for a philosophy instructor for the University of Michigan. During his career, Dewey edged toward a new way of thinking: one that claimed humans were not the "handiwork" of an all-powerful God but were "of their own creation" and shaped by their relationships with physical and human environments. Instead of studying God, this way of thinking called on scholars to study humans and their societies. This idea was a critical component of the school of philosophy that became known as pragmatism, of which Dewey was one of its chief theorists. Dewey argued that since the brain was shaped by environment, scientific studies of how the brain best developed should be used to mold schools. He imagined "the American school as a microcosm of society where children would learn by doing, not by the rote memorization of facts and skills."

— Adapted from "Michigan in the Making," by Francis X. Blouin Jr. and James Tobin. To read more, visit

Tags: Old School